The Labour Party has blasted what it describes as the government’s “abject failure to support disabled people into work”, after official figures revealed a sharp decline in the number of people with disabilities moving into work through the Work Choice programme.
Work Choice is a voluntary government employment programme, designed to help disabled people with complex issues to find work or stay in a job.
According to the government’s website, providers work with businesses and offer support packages “which aim to develop the skills and abilities of a disabled person who needs specialist support”.
Official Work Choice statistics show 7.900 job outcomes for 7,710 individuals for the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016, compared 12,020 job outcomes for 11,450 individuals during the same period the previous year.
There has also been a notable drop in the number of disabled people referred to Work Choice. 20,870 people were referred for employment support between 1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015, falling to 15,330 during the same period a year later.
Figures also show fewer ‘starts’ on the programme. The government recorded 16,070 starts between 1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015, compared to 11,340 for the same period in 2015-16 – a fall of 4,730.
Both the Work Programme and Work Choice is to be replaced with a new ‘Work and Health Programme’, which will see funding of around £130 million a year – around 20% of the funding for the Work Programme and Work Choice, or an 80% cut.
Commenting on the new statistics, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen Smith MP, said: “Another set of data, and yet more evidence of the Tories’ abject failure to support disabled people into work.
“It’s increasingly clear that the Tories have no serious plan to deliver their manifesto pledge to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. They promised to have firm plans in place by the Queen’s Speech, this has now been scrapped and their Employment Support Allowance cuts are taking away money that was designed to help disabled people find work.
“Stephen Crabb might as well come clean and admit that the Tories have long since dumped their target to halve the disability employment gap and have no intentions of making a serious attempt to improve the life chances for disabled people across Britain.”
Last week, the TUC warned the government is at risk of missing its own target to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.
Analysis found that at current rates of progress it will take until 2030 to achieve this target. The findings show that just over half (52%) of disabled people will be in work by 2020. But the government would need to ensure that at least 63% of disabled people are in work by 2020 to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is years behind schedule in achieving its employment target for disabled people.
“While ministers are right to prioritise getting more disabled people into work, they are going about things the wrong way.
“Cutting vital benefits and employment programmes will succeed only in locking disabled people out of the workplace.
“Unless we do more to break down the barriers disabled people face, applying for jobs and staying in work then progress will remain painfully slow.”